by Daphne Liddle
CHANCELLOR Alistair Darling’s pre-budget speech presented to the House of Commons last Wednesday failed to do anything much — except threaten to make serious cuts in public sector pay, jobs and pensions.
There were a lot of positive measures but they were of such small scope and scale they will have little impact — things like extending free school dinners to a few thousand primary school children; insulating a few more homes, a scrappage scheme for ageing central heating boilers that will help just a few and so on.
Alas, he ducked out of imposing a serious windfall tax on the greedy banks and instead put a one-off 50 per cent tax on all banking bonuses over the value of £25,000 — to be levied on the bank, not the recipient. This tax is expected to yield £550 million — a fleabite compared to the £800 billion the banks have had from the taxpayers.
And the small size of the penalty leaves us in no doubt as to who is really running the country.
Public sector borrowing now stands at £178 billion — 12.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product — and Darling says he expects this to be halved within four years.
The unspoken announcement in this is that the Government will be making public spending cuts of around £5 billion every year in the next four years.
He says the Government will not cut front line jobs in the public sector. What will happen is that Government departments will be given their reduced allocations; be told that frontline jobs are sacrosanct and then left to it to sort out where to cut.
Darling has said that the inflated consultancy and spin-doctoring budgets will be cut — and no one will argue with that. But there will be more cuts than this.
The cuts will come in backroom admin and support jobs and this will af fect frontline services. Police officers will be even more snowed under with paperwork if they have to do it all themselves; likewise teachers and doctors. Patients will wait longer for appointments if medical secretaries are in even shorter supply than they are now.
Training programmes for firefighters, teachers and others will be hit and so will cleaning and maintenance of buildings and equipment.
Take away the support services and front lines will be in real danger of collapse.
If Darling really wanted these services to save money, he would scrap all the exorbitant and crippling PFI schemes.
And he would scrap the £2.5 billion he was set aside to continue the war in Afghanistan.
He spoke of finding ways to block loopholes and act — as part of an internationally agreed policy — to catch up with and tax those who move their money into offshore tax havens. His chances of succeeding are remote.
Darling promised that all 16 and 17-year-olds would be offered either college or vocational training places and that all the unemployed under are 24 would be offered either a job or training within six months.
This will hide unemployment to an extent but will create jobs only for training staff and college lecturers — and not many of those either; the existing staff will be expected to take on higher workloads.
The Government claims inflation is now stationary but anyone who shops regularly for imported fruit and veg now knows this is a lie, with the value of the pound falling continually.
Nevertheless this claim will be the basis of giving pensioners a meagre 2.5 per cent rise next April and the basis of an attempt to peg public sector pay rises at just one per cent-a-year for the foreseeable future.
The most positive thing about the speech was the reminder that unemployment, though rising, is a lot less than it would have been if the Tories had been in power and started hacking away at public sector jobs with a scythe — and letting the market forces take a scythe to private sector jobs.
Tory brains cannot register that every job cut means less income tax coming in and more unemployment benefit to be paid out — pushing Government spending and general misery higher.
And this is why Darling’s feeble effort is still worth supporting — until we can organise a revolutionary fight for real socialism.